ATLANTA — A judge could rule before Christmas on whether the state EPD illegally entered into an agreement with Sterigenics – the embattled Cobb County plant that uses cancer-causing ethylene oxide.
The state reached an agreement this summer with the plant for improvements – but without public input. A judge heard the case Thursday.
The Sterigenics plant is shut down now because Cobb County ordered it to stay closed – after the state shut it down late this summer.
State officials had agreed to let Sterigenics operate after making improvements. But residents say the state’s agreement with the plant was illegal. State Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) is one of the plaintiffs in the case.
"There's a rule that’s part of the Environmental Protection Division’s rules called the public participation provision," said attorney Cale Conley, who lives near the plant. He says the public never got any say over the plant’s continued use of ethylene oxide.
"They should have brought that order and said to the public, here’s an order," Conley said. "Now you can read it. You can have scientists look at it and read and determine if, in fact, it is going to address the problem."
Sterigenics is one of four plants in or near metro Atlanta that use and have leaked ethylene oxide. Some residents near two of the plants say they fear the gas has caused cancer clusters in their communities.
The plants, including the BD plant in Covington, contend they operate well within state and federal law.
In court, an attorney for the EPD argued that the legal action taken by residents near Sterigenics was improper – and that the state followed the law by letting the plant make safety upgrades.
An activist who attended says it’s about more than keeping Sterigenics shut down.
"They’ve shut down Sterigenics in the short term. But we can’t rest our hats on that. And we also have the rest of this state to worry about," said Janet Rau, a resident who is active in a group called Stop Sterigenics. "It’s terribly important that we get this right."
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk indicated he could rule on the case as early as December 23.